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Innovator, entrepreneur

The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2022 has concluded its search for the country’s most undaunted and unstoppable entrepreneurs. Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines is a program of the SGV Foundation, Inc., with the participation of co-presenters the Asian Institute of Management, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Philippine Business for Social Progress, and the Philippine Stock Exchange. BusinessWorld will feature each finalist in the next few weeks.

Roberto J. Chan
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Atlanta Industries, Inc.

IT TAKES TIME to build something worthwhile. Undoubtedly, there will be bumps and challenges along the way but anything is possible if you work hard, persevere and believe in yourself. Such is the case for Roberto J. Chan, chairman and chief executive officer of Atlanta Industries, Inc.

No stranger to hard work, Mr. Chan was a working student who had to balance going to school in the mornings and then working at their family business in the afternoons. He wore many different hats at his job — manager, salesman, the person in-charge of production, delivery, dispatch, and others. Eventually, he had to quit his studies at the University of the Philippines after two years due to the challenges that came with being a working student.

At 20 years old, he started working full time. He began his entrepreneurial journey at a humble hardware store in Binondo, Manila. Finding his footing, he later ventured into wholesale hardware materials. As with any other fledgling business, the company’s early years had its share of challenges. Back then, his wife would stay in the office to take care of back-office concerns while he was out making sales.

At that time, there were a lot of new technologies and innovations emerging in the construction industry. Poly-vinyl chloride (PVC) was one of them. However, PVC was considered inferior to steel, which at that time dominated the piping and plumbing industry. But something about the technology touched the inventor in Mr. Chan and he felt there was much potential in PVC.

Through luck and timing, he was given the opportunity to become a distributor of a PVC pipe manufacturing company. After the manufacturer encountered problems and wanted to close, Mr. Chan was offered the chance to take over the business. Though he had no background in manufacturing, Mr. Chan accepted the offer, took out a loan and acquired the corporation. By 1986, it then formally became Atlanta Industries, Inc.

Everything seemed to be going his way in the years that followed. With Mr. Chan’s extraordinary ability to solve problems and provide solutions through his numerous inventions, Atlanta grew rapidly. When the 1997 Asian financial crisis hit, the company incurred huge foreign exchange losses from debt due to the sudden and significant peso depreciation against the dollar. Suddenly, the company’s debt was two to three times bigger. It was a tough time for everyone — companies and banks alike.

Fortunately, Mr. Chan was able to address his debt issues through loan restructuring. Because of that experience, he is now conservative when it comes to the company’s expansion. Eventually, Mr. Chan recovered from that roadblock, survived two more financial crises and other business challenges.

Today, Atlanta Industries is one of the Philippines’ leading manufacturers of high-grade PVC/CPVC/HDPE/PPR pipes, fittings and profiles. In addition, Atlanta has a highly diversified catalog of products that cater to various industries and sectors, from real estate developers to government contractors, utility companies and educational institutions. The company also produces PVC building components such as windows and doors, ceiling and wall materials, school chairs for the Department of Education, PVC toilets for the Department of Health, protective tubing for telecommunication companies, and agribusiness materials. It also developed PVC rescue boats for use during disaster relief operations.

Through it all, what helped Mr. Chan overcome the difficulties in his entrepreneurial journey was his growth mindset and his nature as an inventor who aims to make things better for others. His inventor side often comes to the fore during trying times. He is not one to back down from a challenge. He would do research on a certain need and do what it takes to provide a solution to address that need. This is one of the main reasons why he was able to survive financial crises, turn challenges into opportunities and produce world-class products.

Mr. Chan currently has 41 patents under his name — each an answer for a need. Despite not finishing university, he made the most of what he has and went above and beyond everyone’s expectations. He made not just ordinary products but high-quality ones that have a big, positive impact on many people. For example, he developed a strong, easy to install, recyclable, chemical and impact resistant, and UV resistant large structured wall HDPE pipe, called Durapipe. Durapipe is now being used in many cities’ underground drainage to divert water and prevent landslides — replacing the country’s decades-old concrete pipes. The product is said to help solve the problem of flooding and inadequate drainage system in the country. Durapipe is approved by the Department of Public Works and Highways.

During the pandemic, Mr. Chan was also one of the first batch of COVID-19 patients. He was intubated for 40 days. For him, this is his second life. Currently, he is preparing his sons to take over the company. He has high hopes for them, saying that they share his ideas and goals.

When asked about the secret to his success, Mr. Chan said: “You have to have faith. And you have to be honest, sincere, hardworking and humble. Sincerity and integrity are very important.”

The media sponsors of the Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines 2022 are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel. Gold Sponsors are SteelAsia Manufacturing Corp., Uratex, and Navegar. Silver Sponsors are Intellicare, OneWorld Alliance Logistics Corp., and Regan Industrial Sales, Inc.

The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2022 will be announced on Nov. 21 in an awards banquet at the Grand Hyatt Manila. The winner will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2023 in Monte Carlo, Monaco in June 2023. The Entrepreneur Of The Year program is produced globally by Ernst & Young (EY).